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Habitat models to predict wetland bird occupancy influenced by scale, anthropogenic disturbance, and imperfect detection

June 1, 2017

Understanding species–habitat relationships for endangered species is critical for their conservation. However, many studies have limited value for conservation because they fail to account for habitat associations at multiple spatial scales, anthropogenic variables, and imperfect detection. We addressed these three limitations by developing models for an endangered wetland bird, Yuma Ridgway's rail (Rallus obsoletus yumanensis), that examined how the spatial scale of environmental variables, inclusion of anthropogenic disturbance variables, and accounting for imperfect detection in validation data influenced model performance. These models identified associations between environmental variables and occupancy. We used bird survey and spatial environmental data at 2473 locations throughout the species' U.S. range to create and validate occupancy models and produce predictive maps of occupancy. We compared habitat-based models at three spatial scales (100, 224, and 500 m radii buffers) with and without anthropogenic disturbance variables using validation data adjusted for imperfect detection and an unadjusted validation dataset that ignored imperfect detection. The inclusion of anthropogenic disturbance variables improved the performance of habitat models at all three spatial scales, and the 224-m-scale model performed best. All models exhibited greater predictive ability when imperfect detection was incorporated into validation data. Yuma Ridgway's rail occupancy was negatively associated with ephemeral and slow-moving riverine features and high-intensity anthropogenic development, and positively associated with emergent vegetation, agriculture, and low-intensity development. Our modeling approach accounts for common limitations in modeling species–habitat relationships and creating predictive maps of occupancy probability and, therefore, provides a useful framework for other species.

Publication Year 2017
Title Habitat models to predict wetland bird occupancy influenced by scale, anthropogenic disturbance, and imperfect detection
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.1837
Authors Wesley J. Glisson, Courtney J. Conway, Christopher P. Nadeau, Kathi L. Borgmann
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Index ID 70192080
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle